How does it feel to be chosen for this recognition? What was your reaction?
It is an honor to be chosen. I felt so emotional when I got the phone call. I was starting to feel a little burnt out, and the nomination made me feel seen. I love my work and I love my community, but we come across so many disheartening challenges, and it meant a lot to know a fellow Taoseña recognized me. I also felt like I could have easily come up with 80 other women who are more deserving of this award.
Which of your achievements are you most proud of having accomplished? Why?
I am really proud of the work I have been able to do with my home tribe. I spent my time in school and early career preparing to come back to Taos Pueblo to work. I’ve been able to bring in resources to the tribe through grant writing, advocating for access to vital services on behalf of our community members, organizing for the 100% Community Initiative, fundraising for fun projects like the holiday toy drive, helping to establish Taos Pueblo Sports Alliance programming, and making positive adjustments to health and community programs with the continuous quality improvement side of my work. This work is deeply meaningful, I feel like I can be myself and do something purposeful out of love for the people who shaped me. I feel optimistic about where the tribe is headed, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to contribute.
What is the most difficult lesson you have learned and what is your main takeaway from that experience?
Lasting change is slow. We can only move as quickly as our community feels comfortable. There are so many layers of trauma and broken deals, reparative work has to be done slowly and carefully. I can be such a forceful, determined person when I have a goal I want to accomplish, and this work has taught me about the importance of good relations. Just like the complicated issues in our community took months and years to form, it will take time to untangle and leverage strengths to address them. I have to take off the blinders and take the time to be kind to the different places people are in the process of 100% or any other project requiring change. Establishing and maintaining trust in relationships is important, and deep listening is essential.
Are there any Taos women — who you know or historical women — who have inspired you? Who are they and how have they influenced your life?
My grandma Bertha Vigil. She died months before I was born and yet continued to guide all of our family values. It felt like everything my parents did raising us was in honor of her. I am reminded to love generously when I think of her. Of course, my mom Yvonne Trujillo is an inspiration. She took on parenting as a teen without her mother, Bertha. She worked hard to get my brothers and me where we are now. My parents valued education, but put our education before theirs, and she is back in college and killing it. She’s the reason I work so hard.
For the past three years, I have also been inspired daily by the team of women I work with at the Taos Pueblo Division of Health & Community Services. Some days, it feels like there is nothing we can’t do. We are in the business of breaking down barriers, we are supportive of each other's passions and supportive of each other as humans beyond our work and what we produce. I feel like a good chunk of my confidence comes knowing I have this group of women beside me. I have also been looking in the world of politics with my involvement with EMERGE NM, and so many extraordinary women stepped up for public office and inspire me. I am a huge fan of the dynamic duo of Commissioner Darlene Vigil and Commissioner AnJanette Brush, and I am constantly in awe of (Taos City Council candidate at press time) Corilia Ortega. These ladies, and Secretary/“Auntie” Deb Haaland, make me feel like anything is possible.
Tell me about something that has helped you this past year, be it a book, podcast, movie, quote, song, album, piece of art — or anything else — that made your life better or gave you encouragement when you most needed it.
I’ve been reading “The Body Keeps the Score” which has been providing more validation for the efforts of 100 percent community and the importance of preventing trauma. It has also helped motivate me to be better about taking care of myself through yoga, meditation, counseling, and reflective supervision. Along those lines, self-care is essential for this kind of “heart work.” There is a great article I’ve been clinging to titled, “Connecting Individual & Societal Change” by Linda Bell, Nora Johnson, & Aaron Periera. The article is about how we cannot effectively see the societal and environmental change we need without the inner well-being of changemakers.
Also, Beyonce’s Homecoming album is a quick and easy way to trick my brain into believing I’m a badass boss who can do anything — it pairs well with health equity work.
Lastly, the quote that has been guiding me is:
Courage is not doing something in the absence of fear, but knowing that something else is more important than fear. So we do it.
What is the main issue for women in Taos these days?
The main issue is men who don’t do enough for the women and children in this community. Women are constantly coming together around other women when they are in need. Whether they are family members or are part of the majority of social service, family service, and education workers, women are showing up. The thing I hate the most is when men are complacent in calling out the harmful behavior of men in their lives. If a woman is in a domestic violence situation, for instance, often other women will try their best to support that woman, but I’ve seen men who know these things happen to have an “it ain’t my business” or “there are two sides to every story” attitude and stay friends without holding these guys accountable. Men in power will be symbolic in their support for women but then protect violent men. The perpetuation of this is killing us. As an Indigenous woman, I am asking that these things be taken seriously. There are instances of death and near-death violence in the last year alone. I know there are many good men in our community, but we need them to do more for women and children without the “not all men” arguments. We need you to step up so we aren’t stuck in these never-ending cycles of generational trauma.
This is the third year since the COVID pandemic hit. Tell me how it has affected you and other women in Taos and what is your approach moving forward?
I was most sad to see many phenomenal women who exited the workforce to care for their children when schools closed down — or contrarily stayed at work and existed in high stress balancing their work and their kid’s education. I work in public health, so I stayed at work in person. Because of short-staffing and state public health orders that changed every week, my husband and I helped out at his parents’ restaurant, Casa de Valdez, after work and on the weekends which was getting pretty tough. I was also most worried for my kid brother as an elementary student having to navigate emails and the internet. I feel the most for teacher parents through everything.
I think it is pretty clear that the standard approach to issues pre-pandemic has not worked. Moving forward, I have an opportunistic approach to designing a “new normal.” The pandemic has shown me we cannot wait for outside help, we’ve got to show up for one another and take ownership of our collective experience. We are a community, and we have a collective responsibility to take care of one another.